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Tuesday, 7 November, 2000, 11:27 GMT
How to join the noteworthy

Charles Darwin, father of the theory of evolution, is the new face on the £10 bank note. What does it take to get your portrait in pockets and wallets across the UK, asks BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley

To follow the likes of Charles Dickens, George Stephenson and Michael Faraday on to the notes of the Bank of England you'll have to make an outstanding contribution to British history. That and be dead.

Chairman Mao on a Chinese bank note
"Mao? Wasn't he a politician ... or a footballer?"
"We only use people who are dead," says a Bank of England spokeswoman. "We want to celebrate a complete life's work."

Lead your country to sporting victory or cure a deadly disease, then go off the rails in later life and you won't ever be put on the 600 million £10 notes in circulation. You've been warned.

Charles Darwin, the Victorian naturalist who developed the theory of evolution, and the new face of the £10 note, led an exemplary life until the day he died.

Although he delayed publishing his theories, fearing they would see him condemned as a heretic, by the time of his death Darwin was so highly regarded, MPs offered to bury him among the monarchs in Westminster Abbey.

Creating controversy

In countries such as the United States, where some states remain reluctant to teach his ideas in their schools, Mr Darwin may have proved far too controversial to be honoured in this way.

However, in the UK, few would question his suitability.

Charles Darwin on the £10 note
Darwin: Famous, bearded and dead
"Lots of people wrote to us suggesting we include Darwin on a note," says the bank spokeswoman.

Being controversial is generally a no-no, according to bank note expert Barnaby Faull of Spink & Son Ltd.

"Bank notes are an advertisement for a country. Banks try to choose someone who's apolitical and not likely to upset anyone."

Germany's Bundesbank once avoided using historical figures, says Mr Faull. Today, many of the faces on their notes are obscure to say the least.

"The Germans have had to be slightly more careful than most. Many people in their recent history are not the sort of figures anyone would want to see on notes - especially people in Europe."

Francs for nothing

Germany is not alone. When the Banque de France was looking to overhaul its notes in the mid-1990s, cinema pioneers the Lumière brothers were front runners to grace the 100 franc - until it was pointed out they supported the Nazi-backed Vichy government during WWII.

German bank notes
German notes: Familiar faces?
Artist Paul Cézanne was eventually settled upon, after the family of fellow painter Henri Matisse said he should not be printed on the note because of his lifelong distaste for money.

Charles Darwin came from moneyed stock, so no worries there. That he was a scientist didn't hurt his chances of getting on a note either.

The Bank of England likes to "balance" the figures on their currency. With the recent replacement of physicist Michael Faraday on the £20 by the moustachioed composer Sir Edward Elgar, the family of notes was lacking a colossus of science.

Beard science

Darwin's prodigious beard also made him an ideal candidate for the new £10. Just like Elgar's handlebar 'tache, Darwin's fulsome whiskers make a tangle of drawn lines almost impossible for forgers to copy convincingly.

Some critics have detected a "beard bias" in the Bank of England's recent choices. All the current crop of notes show hirsute men.

HM The Queen on the £20 note
Hair apparent: Check the detail
"It's true they all have beards, but that's because they are all men from the Victorian era. It's a complete myth that we only select bearded men," says the bank's spokeswoman.

The bank requires that any portrait contain sufficient detail to fox forgers, she explains. "But look at the detail in the Queen's hair and jewels. There is no bias against women."

Indeed, Jane Austen (novelist), Elizabeth Fry (prison reformer), Elizabeth Barrett Browning (poet) and Octavia Hill (founder of the National Trust) are all being considered for future notes.

People of note

Although the Bank of England says it is happy to consider suggestions from the public, the final say belongs to the bank's governor, chief cashier and "court".

Mr Faull suspects that this august body is unlikely to honour outstanding figures from certain walks of life.

John Lennon and George Harrison
"No, I'm going on the £50, John"
"I doubt you'll ever see a Beatle on a bank note, whatever the public think. Just as in America, I'm sure lots of people would like to see Elvis on a note, but the Federal Reserve would never do it."

So if not musicians, then who? Try being a banker. The pride of place in the family of notes goes to Sir John Houblon on the £50.

Who's he? The Bank of England's first governor, of course.

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07 Nov 00 | UK
Change for a tenner
22 Jun 99 | The Economy
'Hairy' £20 note set to foil fakers
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